CANBERRA, Australia – A large shark was killed off the west Australian coast on Sunday, the first under a contentious new state government culling policy aimed at curbing fatal shark attacks.
The Western Australia government on Saturday began placing baited hooks on drum lines off popular beaches in the state capital Perth and to the south to kill white, bull and tiger sharks over three meters (10 feet) long.
The policy is a response to seven fatal shark attacks in Australia's southwest in three years.
Government spokesman Simon Beaumont said the first shark was killed by a government-contracted commercial fisherman on Sunday morning off Castle Rock near the town of Dunsborough, 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Perth.
The shark was longer than three meters (10 feet) and was one of the three targeted species. Beaumont would not say which of the three species it was.
Once the fisherman had confirmed with fishing authorities that the shark was the required species and size, he shot it and dumped the carcass at sea, Beaumont said.
The policy has divided the community since it was announced several weeks ago and led to thousands of people demonstrating on Perth beaches against the shark cull.
Activists have threatened to sabotage the drum lines and threatened one fisherman who had accepted a government contract to catch sharks off Perth. He pulled out, citing the threats.
The federal government last week gave state authorities a special exemption from environmental laws to kill white sharks, a protected species.
Environmentalists argue that there is no evidence that the cull will reduce shark attacks. They argue it could even increase the shark danger by giving water users a false sense of security.
"To think that we're wasting this opportunity to tag and to find out more about these creatures, that we're just going to slaughter them and dump them — it's just such a waste of life," Rae Threnoworth, member of marine conservation group Sea Shepherd, told Ten Network television.
State Premier Colin Barnett was heckled by members of the public over the shark's death as he officiated at a citizenship ceremony in Perth on Sunday.
"I get no pleasure out of seeing sharks killed," Barnett told reporters. "But I have an overriding responsibility to protect the people of Western Australia. That's what I'm doing."